Cairo Day 4 – Khan el Khalili, Muezz El Din  & Tanoura 

Time for our first solo day out! We got a taxi to Bab Zuweila, hoping to find the tentmaker’s souk, then visit Khan el Khalili. 

Bab Zuweila is one of the three gates still standing from the walls of Cairo. I’m not sure of its exact date, but it’s around 1000 AD. “Bab” means door or gate. 

Even though we were in the area, we didn’t manage to find the tentmaker’s souk, but we did find a mixed market on a winding pedestrian-ish street through an archway right near Bab Zuweila. It was going in generally the right direction for Khan el Khalili, so we went in.

There really isn’t any such thing as a solely pedestrian street… there will be scooters, tiny trucks, possibly donkey carts, and hand-pulled carts no matter what, and everyone goes with it. You need to be assertive to get anywhere, but not rude. Sort of like the subway at rush hour, but without the angst and body contact. (In the metro there are women-only cars, so that’s another story, but on the street physical contact is avoided.) 

Went we came out through the archway at the end of the street, some college student-age girls were sketching the architecture. 

We were at a busy two-way road with a fence down the median, and I recognized Khan el Khalili, the old market, on the other side. Yay! We walked a ways till we found the tunnel under the road, and came up in front of Al Hussein mosque on the other side. 

We settled in at El Fishawy with tea, coffee, and temayya (Egyptian felafel) sandwiches. This cafe is set on a mirror-covered passageway near the sort of front entrance to Khan el Khalili. It’s one of my favorite places to sit! 

El Fishawy

Tea and coffee at El Fishawy

After our refreshing lunch, we found our way to Mahmoud’s shop… it’s practically a palace of belly dance heaven! Four floors of hip scarves, jewelry, folkloric costumes and bedlah, all granite and marble… and quiet!

The view from Mahmoud’s

Next, following Yasmina’s map, we found our way to Sharia (Street) Muezz El Din. Wow!! This street is lined with beautiful mosques from medieval times, and, of course, vendors including a silver area and a copper area. 

Sharia Muezz El Din

Sharia Muezz el Din

Our destination was the Egyptian Textile Museum. Just 10 le to enter, this museum is filled with ancient pieces of cloth, starting with textiles found in the tombs of Pharaohs! Mummy bandages with writing, finely pleated dresses, funerary cloths… The threads are so very fine! The written info next to the pieces was very helpful. Even after visiting the tombs and the museum, it’s still hard to understand that these are real bits of fabric that are so old–not statues made of stone.

Unfortunately, we had only about 45 minutes before the museum closed. I’m looking forward to returning and seeing more! I hear there is assuit in this museum, too.

Exiting onto Sharia Muezz el Din at sunset was magical. The street, with all its textures and patterns, glowed pink and orange! 

Bashtak Palace

Sabil Kuttab on Sharia Muezz el Din

Sharia Muezz el Din

It was time to recharge so we headed to Nagib Mafouz cafe. This spot is an heavenly spot of calm in the middle of the intensity of Khan el Khalili. Plus, they have really nice restrooms–a precious find!

I ordered sahleb, a hot milk drink with rosewater that is thickened with sahleb root powder (or corn starch or arrowroot, depending on your access), and topped with nuts, raisins, coconut… It’s so warming. It’s winter here in Egypt so it’s the perfect drink for this season. (50-65 degrees Fahrenheit feels warm compared to Maine, but people here are feeling chilly!)

At Nagib Mafouz cafe

After a nice and relaxing sit, we wound our way out of the market, across the street via the tunnel, and around the corner to Wikalet al Ghouri for the tanoura show.

This is one of the most incredible ongoing (three times a week?) events here in Cairo. Each performer is absolutely absorbing to watch individually, and the group as a whole moves as one. 

The building is from the 1500s, a former hostel for merchants. There are four floors surrounding a courtyard. Each floor is lined with doors, creating a really cool setting for this show. Musicians stand in the spaces between the pillars on the second floor, and the dancers and more musicians use the raised stage set up beneath. I wrote more about it last year, here… I’ve been so looking forward to attending again! 

Wikalet al Ghouri

Photos are allowed, but no video, and they actually police it, telling those filming to stop. It’s so nice to be in the moment rather than trying to document. 

Tanoura at Wikalet al Ghouri

After the show, we caught a taxi back home to Yasmina’s and to rest…. ahhhhh…. 

Dancer Origin Stories #1 – Tamalyn Dallal

Dancer Origin Stories is my brand new blog series describing just that: the origins of dancers we love, in all different genres. This spring, the wildly skilled Anais Fatale and I were talking business late one night during her festival, River City Raqs, in Jacksonville FL, and we both thought this would be such a fun series to read. And so it has come to be!

Anais’s story will be featured in a later post. For our debut issue, I am thrilled share with you the origin story of one of the most soulful and moving dancers who I have ever encountered.

Tamalyn Dallal, currently of New Orleans, dances with the grace of someone who is grounded in who she is, and willing to share that with us. I had the pleasure of hosting Tamalyn for a workshop weekend at my studio in Portland, ME (USA), a few years ago. Her depth of experience and her joy in expression always leave me looking forward to the next time.

Dancer Origin Stories: Tamalyn Dallal

 

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Tamalyn Dallal at Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular in Portland, ME Photo: Jon Reece

Q. What is your first memory of dance? (Social, performance, class, etc.)

A. I was exposed to dances of the 1960’s, such as the Monkey, the Swim, etc., via my older sister. When I was in first grade, I loved to stand on chairs and do these dances in school.

Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up? If so, how?

A. My father had been a swing musician. He played jazz at home, especially dixieland, and sometimes other family members joined in.

Q. How did you first encounter Mid Eastern dance?

A. I took a class because I liked the music, but had no idea what I was getting into. I was so impressed with the students who were in the performing group. Back then they did lots of zils and floor work, as well as extensive belly rolls and flutters. I had never seen anything like it.

Q. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class?

A. After I started taking ballet at 15, I continued with other dance forms consistently: Modern, folk dances, Persian, Indian, Middle Eastern , Flamenco. So once I was drawn into dance, it kept growing to be more and more a part of my life.

Q. What led to you becoming serious about your dance studies? 

A. I was often called a “bellydancer” even though I’d only had a few classes, so I felt I had a name to live up to. But when I lived in New Orleans, in the 1970’s, I met Habiba, who was a household name. Her classes were expensive and I was a teenager. I couldn’t afford them, so she took me under her wing as her assistant.

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Tamalyn Dallal in Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular Portland, ME. Photo: Jon Reece

Q. What let you to become serious about Mid Eastern dance? 

A. I was a hobbyist for the first 6 years. One day I was decorating a costume at my desk at work, where I worked with refugees. An Opera singer was temping for the secretary. She said she sang her way around the world and knew a bellydancer who did the same- on ships, in clubs, etc. I wanted that life too.

Q. How do other dance styles you have studied inform your primary style? 

A. I learned to identify natural ways of movement in bleed and Oriental by learning other dances: I.E., The wrists in Persian dance are also used by some Egyptian dancers, especially from the 70’s to 90’s. And Ethiopian upper body movement comes from the earth. Ditto for baladi. I learned to express with the sternum through Japanese Noguchi Taiso.

Q: Tell me about some of your most influential teachers. 

  • Habiba (New Orleans) took me under her wing and helped me learn basic movements.
  • Mish Mish (Seattle) taught lots of ethnic dances
  • Laurel Victoria Gray (Formerly of Seattle) taught me stage makeup and that you can never wear too much jewelry.
  • Inzar (Seattle) was co director of the troupe Shahrazad with Laurel. She taught me how to play zils.
  • Evelyn Hamsey (Miami) invited us as her students to her home to eat home made Arabic food and watch videos of the famous Egyptian dancers in the early days of video.
  • Ramzi El Edlibi (NYC) taught me the way I teach oils today and how to do the 3/4 shimmy the way I teach now.
  • Morocco (NYC) has the best advice and insight in the world.

 

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Tamalyn Dallal at Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular in Portland, ME. Photo: Jon Reece

Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…

A. I did bellyrolls in the back seat of the car when I was little because my sister made me. Not as a part of any dance. So when I took up Middle Eastern dance, I already knew how to do bellyrolls.

Q. And a movement that you had to work hard to master…

A. The Nagwa Fouad shimmy. It took me 40 years, but I just nailed it.

Q. Tell me about one “ah hah” moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.

A. When I was in Africa (Egypt, Zanzibar, Kenya) I danced more earthy than in the USA. When I went to China, suddenly my dance became very skyward. Then I understood that the land in Africa grounds you, and the emotions are expressed in Asia through the upper body: hands, arms, head.

Over time, I found that working with the earth and sky can help all dancers, so a six point system evolved that works like a charm. I discovered how to help people get grounded and how to be more expressive too.

Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

A. Using the six points to improve posture, walk more comfortably.

Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?

A. Ethics, sewing and costume design, administrative skills.

Q. What else would you like to add?

A. The dance needs respect; for the dance, hundreds of years of history, the culture it came from, for ourselves, and for our students and audiences.

Q. What do you have coming up that you’d like to share?

“The Dallal Dance Experience” is a program of experiential dance… I will be teaching two-month series in New Orleans in 2017 where dancers learn technique, history, context, and come together to dance and cook together with other classes. It is about the joy and humanity of our dance, yet it also educates and polishes every dancers technique. “The Dallal Dance Experience” can also be done in workshops.

[Editor’s note: Check out Tamalyn’s website to get in touch re. hosting a workshop!]

About Tamalyn Dallal: 

Tamalyn Dallal’s 40 year Middle Eastern dance career has been eventful, to say the least. She has been a guest choreographer for the 1995 Superbowl Halftime Show in Miami, Fl., and has performed for stars such as Sean Connery, Michael Jackson and James Brown (to name a few), the president of El Salvador and the King of Jordan.

Directing the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, a non profit organization, dance school and performing company in Miami Beach, she taught and mentored dancers such as Amar Gamal and Bozenka, Virginia and others. She organized the Orientalia dance festival for 17 years and produced numerous theatrical productions.

Crowned “Miss America of the Bellydance” in 1995, she has performed and/or taught in 41 countries. She was one of the original “Bellydance Superstars”, has written three books, produced two music CD’s of Africa’s oldest band, the “Ikhwan Safaa Musical Club of Zanzibar”, and currently films ethnological dance documentaries; “Zanzibar Dance, Trance and Devotion,” and “Ethiopia Dances for Joy”.

Website: http://www.tamalyndallal.com/

 

Cairo Blog Day 8 201512: Opera House, Cairo Tower, Metro Foray, & Aleya

On our sixth day in Cairo we ventured out on our own…. no Alanah or Gina to help.

The plan today was to visit the Cairo Opera House, the Oum Kultum museum, go pick up a costume I had ordered from Aleya (the American dancer living in Cairo) back in October, and then head back home for

We hailed a taxi, checked to be sure he had a meter and also spoke a little bit of English. We told him we were going to Opera (“Arouh Oberra”!) he nodded and we took off.

After a very short ride, he said we had arrived. But in fact we had arrived at Opera Square, the site of the old one (near Badia Masabni’s famous Casino Opera), not the current one, which is in Gezira.

To add to the confusion, I had confused the Oum Kulthum museum location with the Opera House location, thinking they were right next to each other, when they are in fact both on the southern tips of Nile islands…. but different islands. So, pointing to the map just confused him further.

Once that was clarified (“Opera gedida”–the new Opera House!) We began a ridiculously long taxi ride…. ring road, etc., which is definitely not the most direct route…. good heavens. Not a navigation win, but we eventually arrived, all of is in one piece.

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Cairo Opera House

The Opera complex has a music library, a modern art museum, another museum, and the Opera House itself.

I was so excited to see the big Oum Kultum statue and the others on the grounds! We took pictures, saw pretty birds, and then sat for tea.

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From the cafe we could see the top of Cairo Tower (Medinat Gezira) so we decided to go check it out! After getting brave and crossing traffic on foot, we wound through some streets until we reached the Gezira Corniche, a wide road that runs next to the Nile with some lovely gardens on the Nile side.

We spotted the Cairo Tower road sign and turned down a well lit street filled with street food vendors and horse carts. The corn looks so good! But I never did try it…. I’m pretty babyish when sick so best not to tempt fate.

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The most incredible tree then came into view. It was massive, with multiple trunks and it seemed like a living creature. Its branches grew down like vines, connected with the earth, and turned into new trunks. I want to know so much more about this tree!!

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Cairo Tower is a Nasser Era building with an elegant lattice work exterior that is 62 stories and 187 meters tall. We went through the omnipresent metal detector and x-ray machine bought our tickets and climbed the stairs to the entrance.

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On the walls all around the elevator shafts was a mural depicting people from all different areas of Egypt: Suez Canal, Alexandria, delta, upper Egypt and Aswan. So very fun to recognize things learned from Sahra Saeed in her wonderful Journey through Egypt course!

The elevator arrived and we went up, exiting on to the obervation deck. For those of us from Maine it was a lovely evening with a stiff cool breeze so high up, but for Cairo dwellers it was freezing!

Like you would expect from an observation deck, it is high up and fairly narrow. Of course it is surrounded by a shoulder-height fence/barrier but I had a moment of weak knees and dropping stomach due to the height and the edge. Totally irrational of course, but a most involuntary reaction!

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I recovered before long, and it was absolutely worth the effort. Seeing the panoramic night views of Cairo, it finally hit me that we are HERE! We ran around taking selfies and other pictures of the views, spotting the Opera House, the Blue Nile boat, the Egyptian Museum, and other things we had visited so far.

I really love going up to get views from above. Every city’s roofs have such a different character!

Next up: a visit with Aleya, an American dancer and costumer who has lived in Cairo for 7 or 8 years, now. I had ordered a costume from her a few months prior and told her I’d pick it up when I was in town.

Since it was rush hour and traffic was at a standstill, we decided to attempt metro (subway) travel for the very first time. We would our way back to the Opera House, found the entrance with some help from passersby, crossed El Tahrir street (eeeeeee!!!!) and entered the metro.

The Cairo metro is really quite easy to use, as it turns out. It costs just 1 le. There are (if I remember right) just three lines, and the train directions are labeled by the name of the last stop (none of this inbound/outbound Boston business!). All trains stop at every stop.

And–very important!–there are all-women cars. Apparently men can get on an car after 9 PM, when the metro is less crowded, but at that time there is no risk of close body contact with men.

There are metal detectors and bag x-ray machines at every single metro entrance, as well as at all tourist attractions and hotels.

We rode just a few stops to Aleya’s area, came up, and, with the help of Heather’s data and Google maps, found our way to her apartment. Such a fun neighborhood to walk through, and different from other areas we had visited so far.

Of course there were lots of bakeries and other shops, also lots of fancy dress shops, upholstery places, banks, and, last but not least, a shop displaying feminine products right at the entrance of the store! Tampons are incredibly difficult to find in Cairo, so this was a big surprise. They also had lots of bath and body supplies and other such things.

We arrived at Aleya’s house, and the man in the lobby (regular guy, not concierge) took one look at us and said, “Aleya?” We laughed and agreed. Entering her place, it was such fun to sew rhr area that she has filmed her http://www.cairobellydance.com online classes! And of course couldn’t help but dig in to her fresh delivery of costumes from a couple of different designers. YUM! After a super fun fashion show of sorts, we settled on our purchases, got Paypal sent, and got ready to leave with big grins on.

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As we were getting ready to go, Jaie, a friend of Aleya’s showed up, and we had the pleasure of meeting a fellow dance addict from South Africa. She is in Cairo doing some studying for  bit.

During this visit we learned that there was a Starbucks nearby. Dorothy works for this company in the US and she was excited to meet employees of the same in a foreign country. After all the new sights and tastes, a bit of familiarity can feel really good, even if it isn’t a place I normally seek out at home, since Portland has so many awesome local coffee shops.

Everything was exactly what you would expect from a Starbucks… the same decor and general layout, muffins and other pastries, drinks menu, extras like mugs or bags of coffee for sale. Also the prices: American rates charged in Egyptian pounds. So, definitely not a place for the average person! But the familiarity was indeed refreshing and I was glad for the stop.

After a nice time hanging out with Aleya and Jaie, it was time to head home.

We retraced our steps to the metro and navigated the distance back to Hadayek El Koba with no trouble at all. From there it was just a 5 le taxi ride to our hosts’ place, and we were starting to recognize the area and be able to give directions ourselves. Shimaal is left, and yimeen is right. More vocabulary learned!

We were ready for a solid night’s sleep, to get ready for a lesson with Yasmina the next day, and a visit to Hallah Moustafa’s dreamy costume workshop.

Cairo Blog Day 7: On our own in Cairo! Khan el Khalili, Tanoura, Belly Dance Show

On our fifth day in Cairo we ventured out into the city without a guide for the first time! However, we had Alanah with us and we were meeting up with Gina so we weren’t exactly unchaperoned.

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On the agenda was Khan el Khalili, a tanoura show that Nibal recommended, and finally a belly dance show–Egyptian dancer Sahar on the Blue Nile boat!

After a nice, relaxed morning, we caught a taxi near Alanah’s house around noon and headed to Khan el Khalili.

Instead of taking the main roads the whole time (don’t worry, we were indeed going the right direction!) the taxi driver took us through the City of the Dead. This is an enormous Muslim cemetery which we have driven past many times, but this was the first time we entered.

In every Muslim cemetery in Cairo there are above-ground tomb-houses (not unlike European cemeteries–but Egyptian style), not grassy expanses like in the US. Many of these are also populated by live people–not just the dead. Families often have arrangements with people who live there in exchange for taking care of the tombs and preventing the graves from being robbed, which can happen for medical purposes or for material gain.

So, if you didn’t know otherwise, you would simply see a dense community of quite formal-looking small houses, complete with satellite dishes and laundry drying out the windows.

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Eventually we arrived at our destination, Khan el Khalili market once again (and for the correct taxi price–yay!) We found our way back to El Fishawy cafe, and ordered some delicious lunch…. plus tea with mint, of course!

The pashmina vendor was relentless. Others have been persistent but this guy just would not take no (la’!) for an answer so we pulled out some functional Arabic words that we had learned: “Helas” (“be done”, essentially) and finally Masalaam (“goodbye”)… which finally worked.

Soon Gina joined us and we started our wandering through the tiny and exciting streets of the old market. We all had various goals… I was in search of a tea set.

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We found a shop with various metal lamps, pots, trays, and more… after figuring out some rates we wandered on, planning to return later after comparing.

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A bit further on, we found a place selling tea sets with an owner who was not overbearing. The further we looked the more fun stuff we found, single glasses out of full sets, perfume bottles, and so much more.

After a couple of hours of browsing, we were famished. Then appeared at the end of a street (we had pretty much done a loop, returning to an area near the entrance of the market) the beautiful Nagib Mafouz cafe! It is a beautifully decorated and very quiet oasis in the middle of the market… quite a contrast to the outside. It is also wildly overpriced. But, hey, we are tourists after all, and very much in need of refreshment.

By overpriced, I mean this: at El Fishawy we paid about 80 le (maybe less?) or about $10 for a dish of fuul (bean dip), five falafels, five pieces of bread, and a round of tea and coffee for us all. (Yes, locals certainly pay less…) At Nagib Mafouz cafe, we paid 180 le or about $22 for an order of baba ganoush and drinks/juices for all six of us. Not bad at all for US prices but quite high for Egyptian prices.

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I had sahlab, a thick hot milk drink with coconut and nuts and raisins to mix in. So delicious!

The cafe also had free wifi–like gold! We learned from Nibal that, unfortunately, Sahar was not going to be dancing that night after all. Darn!

Meanwhile, I also heard from Shahrzad, an American dancer who was in town for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan winter session, that there was a show that evening at the Nile Fairmont, a 5-star hotel on the Corniche. Soraia usually dances there but she is currently on break so Kawakib would instead be performing. I had heard great things about Soraia but Kawakib was a new name to me. However, we were up for the experience. We hadn’t seen any dancing yet, and the hotel nightclub experience was exciting!

After a bit more shop wandering, it was time to head to the tanoura show!! Gina knew where to go so she led us directly there, across a street, around a corner, and down an alley to an unmarked arched wooden door.

From there, Gina and Alanah headed home, so we were on our own for the rest of the night! A bit nervous but hooooopefully now with enough experience to find our way around for the rest of the evening.

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The tanoura show was inside of a huge stone hall, which we have since learned was the courtyard of a former shopkeeping establishment. The area where the show was held was where the animals would hang out during business hours while their owners were doing business outside. The place is three very tall stories high, and each level is lined with doors. It is stunning!

Oum Kultum singing Enta Omri played over the loudspeakers as we waited for the show to begin. Heaven! We hear her voice drifting out of every corner in Cairo…. That is a wonderful thing!

Finally the show began. This was a first for all of us, and it certainly won’t be the last time! Wow….

The musicians first introduced themselves musically, including my favorite, the enthusiastic toura (giant zills) player. The number of sounds he can get our of two metal disks is just mesmerizing to me!

A group of 10 or 12 male (all performers in this show were male) dancers/practitioners then came out, joyfully filling the stage. They were dressed in long white robes with green sufi vests over them. (There is probably an official term for this attire… let me know if you know it!)

Then the first whirler came out. He started to spin, and the other performers made various changing formations around him, weaving around the stage. This man whirled for probably 45 minutes, with the music and dance around him.

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In the second half, there were three whirlers, one in yellow and two in green, in a choreographed or lead/follow formation, with at least 4 or 5 different skirt layers making spectacular colors.

The music and power and ecstacy is not communicated by what I have written. So far…. I hope that you can come to Cairo and experience it yourself!

After the tanoura show we were elated–but gathered ourselves and went back out into the alley, past a large local outdoor market and around a mosque to a main street to find a taxi.

We know to look for a specific official black and white taxi, and to be sure it has a meter that gets started as soon as we get in the car. But first we need to tell them where we are going and they can decide whether or not they want to go there. Of course, we can also accept or decline.

We found a taxi that looked good, and told him we were going to the Nile Fairmont. He was at first confused… then Dorothy said Fairmont Hotel. His face lit up and he said, “Ah, Fairrrrrrmont Hotel!” and we took off. We learned that we need to get much better at using an Egyptian accent with English words. But our first solo taxi ride in Cairo was a success!!

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Entering the fancy pants Nile Fairmont Hotel we suddenly felt terribly underdressed! However, the staff was very kind, leading us to a table right next to the stage. On stage when we arrived about 10 PM was a wonderful 7-ish-piece band with a female singer in beautiful black robes with gold and red accents, singing Oum Kultum classics. Couldn’t ask for a better start!

See a video of this singer here!

The next act was a pop/shaabi singing duo (a woman and a man) accompanied by a man on keyboard. While these performers were entertaining for a few songs, their act went on for close to two hours…

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Finally, a bit after 1 AM, the dancer’s band took the stage. There must have been 12-14 musicians, including oud, accordion, and so much more. So thrilled! The show went on till nearly 3 AM, two full sets with a costume change.

Here’s a short video of Kawakib!

Since the hotel had free wifi, we decided to try Uber to get home. Since it was very late, we didn’t want to wake Ahmed with a phone call for directions unless we had to. (This is normal taxi behavior here.) The Uber arrived promptly… but I had chosen the wrong address since the real one wasn’t on Google maps. Sigh… They were expecting a phone call but still!

We arrived home happily exhausted…. zzzzzz…….

Cairo Trip Day 3 – Khan el Khalili & Noussa

Our first full day in Cairo was wonderfully full!

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Nibal picked us up at 10 AM and we headed straight to Khan el Khalili, the old market in the center of Old Cairo.

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Delicious food at El Fishawy

We started with breakfast at El Fishawy cafe: fuul (a bean dip), musa’a (aubergine dip), pickled aubergines, and a special falafel, plus Egyptian mint tea, of course.

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El Fishawy cafe in Khan el Khalili

I just love El Fishawy! It’s a mostly outdoor cafe, with mirrors lining the narrow walkway, making it seem like there are secret windows throughout. The floors are inlaid with tile mosaics, and vendors constantly pass through, carrying fresh bread on their way somewhere else, offering pashminas, necklaces or shoe polish. It’s a magical place!

When we finished eating we headed to a spice shop, lined floor to ceiling with all kinds of good smelling things. On the ceiling hangs a crocodile skin, and in one corner are snake and fox skins and tortise shells. There are boxes of dates and other dried fruit, open barrels of grains and herbs, bins of saffron, cumin and so much more.

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Spices at Khan El Khalili

After stocking up on spices (Heather) and hibiscus for tea (me, shockingly), we walked a short distance through the winding pedestrian streets to Mahmoud’s veritable costume palace! Three nice cool stone levels absolutely packed with belly dance goodies of all kinds… beaded bedlah, folkloric costumes, hip scarves, jewelry and more.

I loaded up on hip scarves to bring back for my students, and treated myself to a Nubian style folkloric dress, complete with tarha.

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Mahmoud's costume shop

After spending a good number of hours at Mahmoud’s, we stopped by a music and movie shop, where I found, among other goodies, a copy of Bahebbek Hassan (I love you, Hassan), a Naima Akef movie that I have been trying to find for years! No subtitles, but I’m thrilled to have it and be able to watch some of the scenes that I have only ever briefly glimpsed on YouTube before they disappeared.

During the day, Nibal kindly called Mme. Noussa and made an appointment to visit her at her workshop in Giza. After checking out a couple more shops in Khan el Khalili, we met our van driver and jumped into thick traffic to Giza!

Egyptian traffic is like nothing I’ve ever experienced… it’s kinda like a big game of chicken. Maybe like Boston but without the rage and with far fewer rules. Lanes and traffic signs are really just decoration. Honking and flashing lights is a legit form of communication. It’s kinda awesome–at least when you’re not in a rush, cause you really have no control!

Upon arriving on El Haram Street in Giza, we had to cross traffic. There are no crossealks…. you just go. And we did, grabbing on to each other to take up as much space as possible!

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With Mme. Noussa

Mme. Noussa is the absolute kindest woman. Her costumes are dreamy and she takes great care in helping us find a good fit. After trying on a few costumes I settled on two to take home. Yippeeeee!

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Having Nibal with us made all the difference. She knows how to navigate the labyrinthine streets of Khan el Khalili, and how best to speak with the vendors for the best results. It was a stress-free first day–just lots of fun and exploration with great guidance.

Next up, a day at the Saqqara and Giza pyramids, the the Makan Center and the Mazaher ensemble in the evening!

Cairo Trip Day 4: Photo Shoot with Yasmina

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Yasmina, originally from England, has lived in Cairo for 20 years. She’s a dancer, teacher, photographer, and B&B host. You can stay at her gorgeous top floor flat in Giza while visiting! She has a beautiful studio as well as tons of beautiful nooks and two balconies perfectly set up for photo shoots. No way were we going to pass up this opportunity!

Amity kindly arranged for our group of six to share two days (three people per day) with Yasmina behind the camera. Luckily,  we had had luck shopping in Khan el Khalili the prior day so we had plenty of costume options to choose from!

After worries about cloudy weather potentially interfering with our plans, i woke up to a text from Amity left in us know that we were leaving in just one hour! Thankfully, Nibal was downstairs and she helped us to find a taxi with an English speaking driver and a fixed price. We left the hotel about 10 AM, costume-laden suitcases in tow, to go to Yasmina’s apartment.

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On the way there, we kept bringing up dance topics while Amity made cutting motions across her throat (thank you, Amity!). We are in Egypt now. Best not to blabber on about being dancers in unknown company!

On the way there, with the cab blasting 90s pop music… oh, hey, there are the pyramids! Huge, huge, pyramids, just casually hanging out on the skyline. ‘S cool.

After just a short can ride, we arrived and Yasmina cane down to meet us. Karen and Amity were meeting a professional make-up artist, with stunning results, while I would put my face on in an adorable spare bedroom.

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We spent the next few hours changing costumes and posing and dancing in various corners of Yasmina’s flat. She is very particular about which colors work best in which settings, which is fantastic!

What a joy it was to dance on a rooftop balcony in Egypt under a warm sun in March!

Then came a venue change… At about 3 PM we packed up and headed to the desert to take pictures in front of th pyramids! We donned our desert costumes (bright colors best!), cover ups, and pulled on pants under our costumes. (Note to self: closed toe shoes would have been smart.)

We drove with Yasmina for about 15 minutes to some stables where she keeps her horse. There were 4 horses and a camel waiting for us. With no time to waste, we hiked up our cover ups and costumes and climbed into the saddles. Karen took the camel on the way out, while Amity and I rode horses. An experienced rider, Yasmina took on a high-stepping horse that was still in need of training.

We set off towards the desert, down a small dirt road past a cemetery, some unfinished construction (really common here), my horse being led by the guide since I have no training whatsoever in riding.

As we reached the edge of the desert, a group of eight or so young men came galloping towards us at full speed, ignoring our guide’s motions to slow down. They passed us and our horses didn’t even flinch.

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After about 15 minutes of a leisurely ride over hills of sand, we came to a ridge with a clear view of the pyramids. We dismounted and headed to the edge of the ridge. Yasmina took out her camera and the shoot began! It was a hazy day, with the sun in and out of the clouds, but the result was that our brightly color costumes popped even more against the backdrop.

The wind was strong when we started but it just kept getting stronger, providing really fun movement even when we were posing still. We tried all kinds of different types of set-ups… veils, dancing, poses, camels in the frame. So much fun!

After a while–and tons of shots–the light was fading and the wind was still getting stronger, and we were ready to call it a day. On the way back I decided to brave the camel. They are tall, with a rolling gait, so I was super nervous. But how can you pass that up?! It took a few minutes to figure out the right muscle groups to stay upright and comfortable, but once that phase passed it was awfully fun.

I don’t think there is anything more touristy than riding a camel in a belly dance costume (evinced by comments such as, “Aloha! You look very Egyptian.”). But, hey….. worth it!!

When we returned to Yasmina’s, Amity got a text from our wonderful tour guide from the previous day, Nibal, who said she was on her way by the other half of our group, who had visited Khan el Khalili that day, and she would pick us up.

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Egyptian Perfume Palace, Giza

As it turned out, the others were at the nearby Egyptian Perfume Palace so Nibal brought us there. The power was out (it happens from time to time) so everyone was sniffing botanical essences in the dark while sipping lemon and hibiscus drinks. Of course we couldn’t pass up this opportunity!

The lights came back on half an hour later and we all cheered, then looked around to see all of the beautiful tiny glass perfume bottles (actually made of Pyrex!) lining the walls. We made our purchases and headed back to the hotel, exhausted but happy!

Cairo Trip Day 3, Part 3: Hallah Moustafa’s Workshop

I tried on my first Hallah costume at Sabrina’s booth at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive in 2013 (where, coincidentally, I am teaching in Sept 2015!) and promptly fell in love. The workmanship is exquisite. The designs are unique and elegant. The bras are pure magic. So, visiting Hallah’s shop was most definitely a Cairo trip priority for me.

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We got word through Nibal that a mutual friend was already there. Our Northeast US group meets Texas in a shop in Cairo run by another American from Washington state!

Our van took us back to Giza, while we again marveled at the way traffic works, and wound down some neighborhood streets onto a dirt road off the pavement road off the main road, all of which are lined with balcony-bedecked building with views of minarets everywhere.

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As we entered the shop, where we were warmly welcomed by Hallah and her assistant, Mona, we passed tables filled with costumes in various states of creation. Piles of assuit, chiffon and beads, awaited requests or a moment of inspiration.

We ooohed and aaahed our way to the foremost room, where the finished costumes hung on display. What else to do but try them on? And boy, was that fun! We settled on our favorites and our custom modifications, and set a date for our return fittings.